I know, I know, you’ve seen all of those social media posts on gratitude, the ones where people highlight the “little things in life” and with all the flowery language about how life gets tough but there’s really so much to be thankful for. And I know that around this time of year (Thanksgiving in the States) you’re probably about ready to unfollow the next person to mention the “G” word. I’ve been there, too.
BUT (c’mon, you had to know there would be a but), it turns out there are some real reasons you should maybe try to tune into your inner thankful…including benefits to your mental health!
When I went to my therapist after I realized I had become depressed following the birth of my daughter, I asked him, plain and simple, how to be happy. That was my goal, to live this one and only life in the happiest way possible.
His almost immediate first response was, “Well, do you have gratitude practice?”
Gratitude practice??? I mean, what BS was that? I thought. How would gratitude make me happy, more than just doing the things I like??
Well, in a lot of ways, it turns out. Read on to find out what I’ve learned about gratitude, mental health, and happiness in general.
Firstly, I want to preface this information by saying that you may not be in a place in your life for a gratitude practice. If you’ve experienced a recent trauma or are deep into some mental illness muck, nobody would expect you to shuck those strong feelings of grief or depression and be thankful anyway. Maybe you just can’t right now. And that’s ok.
But in general, gratitude as a practice and/or personality trait does some pretty cool things to our brains.
Research shows that regularly practicing gratitude increases your dopamine and serotonin production and improves the functioning of your hypothalamus (Thriveglobal.com, Positivepsychology.com). This means your brain is being flooded with more of those good-feeling chemicals. Positive Psychology Today even likens this effect on our brains to that of common antidepressant medications, which typically reduce our brain’s frequency of sucking back up the serotonin that’s released so that it can have a more prolonged effect on the brain. (PLEASE NOTE: A gratitude practice is not a replacement for prescribed medications and I am NOT a doctor!)
Because gratitude appears to promote healthy hypothalamus functioning, it also increases healthy functioning among a bunch of your basic bodily rhythms, like hunger and sleep (Bustle.com) Umm, hello new moms!
Besides what a gratitude practice can do to the actual neurological functioning of your brain, it can improve depression and anxiety by restructuring a person’s behavior in two major ways: One, by strengthening our relationships with self and others, and two, by naturally increasing how often we find the good in life. (Read articles here and here). Essentially, expressing gratitude towards people can make us more appreciative of them and strengthen interpersonal connections. Additionally, one study suggests gratitude makes makes us more self-assuring a decreases that self-critiquing that is often associated with depression. Finally, counting blessings instead of stressors or fails makes you more resistant to bad feelings about the bad events in your life and can thus make one more resistant to depression.
So there you go, actual scientific evidence that a gratitude practice isn’t just some Thanksgiving fad.
HOWEVER, it IS important to not just let gratitude disappear with the Thanksgiving turkey. A few studies I read emphasized the importance of making gratitude a regular and long term practice (here and here) to see the benefits of it.
I’ll leave you today with a few simple ideas about how to practice gratitude in your daily life:
- Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal. Write down just 5 simple things you’re grateful for each day.
- Send or Deliver a Thank You Note.
- Tell Your Partner 5 Things You’re Grateful for Before Bed.
I, personally, keep a little journal where I write things in regularly, and I do believe it’s helped improve my positivity.
I hope you’ve found something meaningful here! Until next time!